Last September, I presented a clinic on detailing track. An audience member asked me how far I go in adding details like weeds and such. I said that I go as far as I can with it.
As long as equipment can still run, I’ll pile it on. I’ve started using static grass sheets for groundcover, and now prefer them to regular ground foam, which doesn’t look anything like real foliage. I still use sisal twine too, in fact, after the color of the static grass fibers have been toned down a little, the two look nice together.
I’ve also piled ballast and dirt up to the rail tops with no bad effects. I’ve had no problems with tracking or operations doing this, even after everything is bonded in place. I did this on several HO layouts using both RP25 and P87 wheels. As long as the wheels can make contact with the rails, things will be fine.
In addition to weeds, I plan on adding a lot of trash like old boards, used metal strapping and even remnants of an old tarp across the rails. My loco has all wheel pickup and will straddle a short electrical blockage just like it does over the electrically dead frogs of all my turnouts.
I did something similar at the Mill St. grade crossing by bringing the plaster used for roads right up to the rails on both sides. I used lengths of old rail turned sideways along with some timbers on one track and nothing at all on another. This was more for show than an operational requirement. On the far tracks at this multi-track crossing, I simply waited a bit for the plaster to partially set up and then cut flangeways in the pavement with a set of plastic wheels from San Juan Car Company. No problems with smooth operation once the roadway dried. I just made certain the rail heads were clear and that things were slightly below them in height.
We are still largely influenced by the train set mentality that drives much of what happens in this scale. Flangeways don’t have to be three feet wide or the full depth of the rail for scale equipment to operate. A lot more detail can be added to track than you think. You can all but bury the track completely. As long as wheels can make electrical contact and the flanges can guide the equipment, things should be fine. Of course with the coming of battery powered locomotives, it becomes a whole new ball game. Cool!